A mousy, lovelorn librarian uncovers her family’s well-kept secrets, finding herself in the process.
Martha Storm has spent her life in the English coastal town of Sandshift, catering to the needs and whims of others. The library’s denizens, the library manager, even her own sister, Lilian, take shameless advantage of her. In her younger days, Martha, now middle-aged, let the love of her life slip away, choosing to move in with and care for her aging parents. They’re gone now, as is her eccentric grandma Zelda, the only person who ever seemed to understand and protect her. Zelda also encouraged her gift for storytelling, which Martha has long since abandoned. One day, a book turns up with a curious inscription and the unmistakable suggestion that her beloved Nana may still be alive. Though Lilian pooh-poohs the discovery, Martha finds the gumption to get to the bottom of the mystery. Like the author’s previous novels (Rise and Shine, Benedict Stone, 2017, etc.), this one features a timid protagonist who must learn self-assertion. But here, charm is in short supply. Much of the action is predictable, the dialogue stilted: Children don’t sound anything like children, and the library assistant, Suki, is given to unlikely malapropisms. The author juxtaposes scenes from Martha’s childhood with the contemporary narrative, and her controlling, emotionally remote father comes off as a cardboard villain. Everything about this book is old-fashioned, so when the author inserts a couple of contemporary notes—a subplot involving a lesbian couple; a reference to Spotify—it feels jarring. The book also goes on a bit—the eleventh-hour plot turn involving the old fisherman Siegfried could have been condensed or cut.
Though the novel celebrates libraries and storytelling, the story it tells is not very satisfying.